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Constatines Hope to Sweep the Entire Nation

Constantines Of Canada’s beloved winter sports, hockey is well represented in our musical canon, with the likes of The Tragically Hip, Stompin’ Tom, The Rheostatics and “puck rockers” The Hanson Brothers having laced up their lyrical skates. Up to now, however, curling has been more associated with rocks than rock’n’roll.

Enter The Constantines. Heralded by Britain’s NME for their “feverishly partisan dedication to the wild delirium of rock’n’roll,” the Toronto-based, Guelph-founded quintet has named their third album Tournament of Hearts. According to singer/guitarist Bry Webb, the band members are fans of the Ontario women’s team, and they’ve incorporated curling culture into their celebrated concerts.

“There’s a lot of ‘Hurry hard!’ being yelled when tuning is happening,” says Webb, “and in these awkward pauses between songs, usually ‘Hurry hard!’ is the only thing that gets things going.”

The Cons, as they’re affectionately known to their devoted fans, previewed the album last month while touring in hockey arenas with The Foo Fighters. While it was apparently a thrill to be performing under Wayne Gretzky’s retired jersey at the Northlands Coliseum, Webb looks back particularly fondly to a tour stop in Winnipeg this past spring, where the band curled for the first time. Appropriately, drummer Doug MacGregor, whose authoritative rhythms underpin the band’s songs, acted as the skip.

“I think we’d love to be part of a league and really get in there,” enthuses Webb. “It’s tough to get into some kind of organized play, because our touring schedule is so complicated, so we may have to stop touring.”

Fear not, Constantines fans — the band is not about to leave behind its “feverish delirium” anytime soon. In fact, so busy are they with touring and video-shooting commitments, Webb conducts his interview with the Post on a cell phone from a Toronto Laundromat. At one point, he breaks off to complain about being “ripped off” by a soap dispenser — after all, it’s important to have clean clothes when you’re constantly sweating out energetic sets.

The Constantines last played in their adopted hometown last month at Lee’s Palace. There, they headlined the fifth-anniversary celebrations of their Canadian indie label, Three Gut, which is closing up shop with the release of Tournament of Hearts. The concert could have been a maudlin affair, but Webb and company’s joyous set ensured Three Gut was sent off with more of an Irish wake than a funeral. The gig ended at 2 a.m. with a marathon rendition of Neil Young’s defiant “Don’t Be Denied,” during which the stage was invaded by scores of fellow musicians, friends, and fans, all singing along.

“It was pretty wonderful,” recalls Webb of the communal experience. “I think somebody kicked the mic over that was in front of my amp, and unplugged an amp, and it ended up just being drums in the background, drowned out by handclapping and people singing drunkenly.”

The set’s highlight was the raucous blue-collar anthem “Working Fulltime,” which found the entire venue raising their hands and singing the words “We won’t be undersold!” in a moment worthy of BTO’s classic “Takin’ Care of Business.”

On disc, the song’s tone is in keeping with the sombre sonics of Tournament of Hearts. “We actually talked about remixing that song just to get on classic rock radio,” says Webb. “All of us have had jobs where you’re working at a warehouse or some assembly line, and you’re listening to ‘Q’ all the time. It’s actually a pretty awesome unifying experience to be working with people you don’t know that well, and everybody starts nodding when ‘Who Made Who’ comes on, or ‘Immigrant Song.’”

Webb wrote the song’s lyrics after reading the book Working by American historian Studs Terkel. Other songs draw on less obvious influences: the insistent opener “Draw Us Lines” was inspired by eco-spiritual activist Starhawk, while “Lizaveta” incorporates a line from an 1845 poem in Scientific American about forces of attraction. Elsewhere, Webb sings in his powerfully throaty voice about “bad weather,” “pissing rain," a “bad moon shining in the waves,” and the “weird winds of Ontario.” The album’s design is drawn from bassist Dallas Wehrle’s photographs of the forbidding terrain of the Yukon.

“I like that regionalist approach,” offers Webb. “We’re all pretty big Neil [Young] fans. Gordon Lightfoot’s the same – there are a lot of Canadian songwriters that seem to have that regionalist tendency.

“I love the names of places as words – some of them seem to have a real mystique and a nice sound. ‘There’s a town in North Ontario’ [from Neil Young’s ‘Helpless’] has a mysterious but inviting quality; that’s what I’m trying for.”

With the end of Three Gut, Webb is looking ahead to a “new phase” of his band. But right now, he’s ready for a new phase of his laundry — from the washer to the dryer. He leaves us with one final message:

“Support curling. It’s a real up-and-coming sport. There are young people that are going to be the next stars, so be on the lookout.”

— Originally appeared in The National Post, Sep. 27, 2005


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